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The History behind American Express

*Editorial Note: This content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuer. Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuer. This site may be compensated through a credit card issuer partnership.

This article was last updated Mar 10, 2013, but some terms and conditions may have changed or are no longer available. For the most accurate and up to date information please consult the terms and conditions found on the issuer website.

American Express has become a household name when it comes to credit cards. We've all been asked once or twice before, "Will you be paying with a Visa, Discover, MasterCard, or American Express?" This company may be well established now, but it wasn't always that way. In fact, it didn't have anything to do with credit cards at the time of its origination. Where did it come from? How did it get there? That's what we're here to tell you.

In this article, we will take a stroll through the big events that made this company the lending giant it is today. You might be surprised by how much went into the formation of Amex.

Quick Facts about American Express

American Express started out as an express mail business in 1850, but it has since become one of the most powerful of all lenders and investment companies in the world. Here's a look at some details:

  • The company is the largest card issuer by purchase volume in the world.
  • The company processes millions of transactions each day.
  • It is one of the largest small business lenders.
  • It leads the industry in the number of account management and payment tools for merchants available – and offers the latest products in most cases.
  • It's considered one of the most innovative companies in the industry.

With such a range of achievements under its belts, you can see why the history of American Express is so fascinating.

American Express Timeline

1882 – The company first launched its money order business to compete with money orders provided by the US Postal Service.

1914 – In response to global travel increases during and after World War I, the company launched its international traveler's cheques, the first if of its kind.

1980's – It would not be until the 1980's, though that the company would completely change what it was doing and begin offering the big investment options it now offers.  The lender begins working to establish credit lines with airlines, hotels and retailers, including Air Canada, Air France, Delta Air Lines and others.

1999 – The company introduces the Centurion Card, referred to as the "black credit card" to the most affluent of borrowers. The annual fee was $2500 and credit lines were unlimited.

2005- The company launched ExpressPay, a service that allows a contact-less way to make payments using a credit card. This service was installed in many retailers throughout the country as a faster, safer way to make a purchase. The company also launched the Clear Card, the first of its kind that charged no fees of any kind.


2007 – The Plum Card becomes available as a small business credit card. It offers discounts to members who use the card frequently.


What It Offers Now

American Express has continued to launch new products and deliver impressive offers to credit users and investors. The company offers various credit cards including:

  • credit-cardsGold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express with rewards for all purchases
  • Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express with bonus cash for tons of purchases
  • The Business Gold Rewards Card from American Express OPEN with over 40 premium benefits
  • The Plum Card® from American Express OPEN for small businesses who spend significantly and want discounts
  • SimplyCash® Plus Business Credit Card from American Express with up to 5% cash back on select purchases

*Terms and limitations apply.

There are a number of other American Express credit cards to choose from, depending on what you want out of your card. In addition, the company offers corporate and merchant cards, gift cards, savings accounts, and CD's. Some of these investment products remain the best yielding accounts.  With up to 24% of the total dollar volume of credit card transactions in the country and a brand worth of $14.97 billion, this company is an impressive and growing powerhouse.

Editorial Note: This content is not provided by American Express. Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by American Express.

*The content in this article is accurate at the publishing date, and may be subject to changes per the card issuer.

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